Karel Čapek Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Karel apek was essentially a thinker who used a variety of forms to express his philosophical and political ruminations. Aside from his dramatic writing, apek’s work falls into three categories: political and philosophical writing, tales, and novels. Among his political and philosophical publications are Pragmatismus (1918), a direct outgrowth of work he did in his doctoral program at Charles University. This was followed in 1920-1921 by Musaion, a collection of essays on modern art, in part an outgrowth of his doctoral dissertation, “Objective Methods in Aesthetics.” In 1928, apek published the first of the three volumes of Hovory s T. G. Masarykem (President Masaryk Tells His Story, 1934; also as Masaryk on Thought and Life, 1938). This extensive work, completed in 1935, grew out of apek’s close friendship with his former university professor, Tomas G. Masaryk, who served as Czechoslovakia’s president from 1918 until 1935. Out of this same period appeared a closely related collection of essays, O vcech obecných: ili, Zóon politikon (on public matters), published in 1932. A posthumous collection of essays Veci kolemnás (the things around us) was published in 1954.

apek, sometimes in collaboration with his brother Josef, liked to write tales and sketches, often of the fantastic. Many of these tales and sketches were collected and published, beginning with Záivé hlubiny (1916; The Luminous Depths, 1916), Bozí muka (1917; wayside crosses), and Krakonoova zahrada (1918; the garden of Krakono)—all these pieces written with Josef. In 1929, apek published on his own two collections of tales, Povídky z jedné kapsy (tales from one pocket) and Povídky z druhé kapsy (tales from the other pocket), translated into English and published together as Tales from Two Pockets in 1932.

apek’s novels combine political philosophy with a strong sense of the fantastic. The first, Továrna na absolutno, appeared in 1922 and is variously known in English as The Absolute at Large (1927), Factory for the Absolute, and Manufacture of the Absolute. apek then began the ambitious project of writing a trilogy that consisted of Hordubal (1933; English translation, 1934), Povtroó (1934; Meteor, 1935), and Obyejný ivot (1934; An Ordinary Life, 1936). These three novels, coming just as Adolf Hitler’s ascendancy in Germany was being noted widely, led to apek’s fifth novel, Válka s mloky (1936; The War with the Newts, 1937), which was openly anti-Fascist and specifically anti-Hitler. První parta (1937; The First Rescue Party, 1939) continued to develop the political philosophies found in the early novels.


Karel apek is remembered today for his popularization of the word “robot,” actually first used by his brother Josef in his short story “Opilec” (1917) and used by Karel in R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots, which was first produced in Prague in January, 1921. The word is from the Czech robota, meaning compulsory service or work. Popularizing this word, however, was certainly not apek’s most notable professional achievement. A deeply philosophical man, professionally trained as a philosopher, apek was the first Czech writer to attract a broad international audience for his works, particularly for his expressionist drama, which has been translated into many languages and has been performed all over the world.

A versatile intellectual, apek, during his years on the staff of Lidové noviny, the most influential Czech newspaper, demonstrated by the excellence of his writing that journalism can be an art. He wrote on a broad range of subjects, from Persian rugs to gardening to drama and art. apek was also an incisive political thinker who wrote stirring political essays, but his political sentiments achieve a more universal expression in his plays and novels, particularly in such plays as R.U.R., The Insect Play, and Power and Glory and in the novels of his trilogy comprising Hordubal, Meteor, and An Ordinary Life. His novel most familiar to English-speaking audiences is The War with the Newts, which builds directly on much of the social criticism found in R.U.R. and in The Insect Play and which presents one of the earliest direct literary attacks on Hitler. His trilogy has attracted considerable interest for its manner of dealing with the infinite diversity of the human personality.

apek, who was deeply involved in the arts and in the cultural life of Prague, served from 1921 to 1923 as director of Prague’s City Theatre, where he directed thirteen plays. He was less comfortable as a playwright than he was as a journalist or a novelist because he believed that in drama the author has too little control over his own product: The actors and the director, by...

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Karel apek, who earned his living as a journalist, is best known for his futuristic drama, R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots (with Josef apek, 1921; English translation, 1923), which brought into the language the word “robot,” coined by his brother Josef. Besides his collections of short stories, apek published seven novels and a book of travel sketches. Six of his plays were produced.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Karel apek, recognized as one of Czechoslovakia’s leading literary figures, is remembered for works of science fiction in which he expresses concern for the human race in a rapidly changing, increasingly technological society. Elected president of the PEN Club of Prague in 1925, apek chose not to serve, although a decade later he was persuaded to succeed H. G. Wells as president of the International PEN Club. Unable to attend his inauguration in Latin America, apek failed to assume office. apek was a serious contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1937 and 1938. The Nobel Committee, however, fearful of offending German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, passed him over.

Other literary forms

Apart from long fiction, Karel apek (CHAH-pehk) wrote many stories, travelogues, and plays. An important journalist, he published many of his feuilletons as well as his conversations with T. G. Masaryk, then president of Czechoslovakia. He also published a book on philosophy, Pragmatismus (1918), and a book of literary criticism, Kritika slov (1920).

apek’s collections of short stories include Zárivé hlubiny (1916; with Josef apek); Bozí muka (1917; Wayside Crosses, 2002); Krakonoova zahrada (1918); Trapné povídky (1921; Money, and Other Stories, 1929; also known as Painful Tales, 2002); Povídky z druhé kapsy and Povídky z jedné kapsy (1929; Tales from Two Pockets, 1932); Devatero pohádek (1931; Fairy Tales, 1933); and Kniha apokryf (1946; Apocryphal Stories, 1949).

Among apek’s most important plays are R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots (pb. 1920; with Josef apek; English translation, 1923); Ze ivota hmyzu (pb. 1920; with Josef apek; The Insect Play, 1923; also known as And So Infinitam: The Life of the Insects, 1923); Vêc Makropulos (pb. 1920; The Macropulos Secret, 1925); Bílá nemoc (1937; Power and Glory, 1938; also known as The White Plague, 1988); and Matka (pr., pb., 1938; The Mother, 1939).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Karel apek is among the best-known modern Czech writers. He became prominent between the two world wars and was recognized by and acquainted with such eminent figures as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, G. K. Chesterton, and Jules Romains. apek’s international reputation earned for him the presidency of the Czechoslovak PEN Club, and he was suggested for the post of president of the International PEN Club, an honor that he declined. Though he was equally versatile in fiction and drama, his fame abroad rests mostly on his science-fiction play R.U.R., written in collaboration with Josef apek, which introduced into the world vocabulary the Czech word robot, a neologism derived from the Czech robota,...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bradbrook, Bohuslava R. Karel apek: In Pursuit of Truth, Tolerance, and Trust. Portland, Oreg.: Sussex Academic Press, 1998. A critical reevaluation of apek’s work. Bradbrook discusses apek’s many intellectual interests, including his search for truth and his appreciation of science and technology. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Bradbrook, Bohuslava R. “Karel apek’s Contribution to Czech National Literature.” In Czechoslovakia Past and Present, edited by Miloslav Rechcigl. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1968. Clearly places apek high on the list of notable Czech authors, demonstrating how much his writing...

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